HL Deb 27 September 1939 vol 114 cc1143-61

4.2 p.m.


had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of many urgent representations received from all over the United Kingdom, the decision of the Minister of Home Security that boys under sixteen years of age should not be enrolled as National Service Volunteers in any branch of Civil Defence, may be amended so as to include boys who have reached the age of fourteen; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the Question which stands in my name. In doing so I cannot say that it has quite the gravity of the many questions which have occupied your Lordships during the last three weeks, but all the same I hope I shall be able to show that it is neither irrelevant nor unreasonable. I am speaking particularly on behalf of big boys' organisations throughout the country which have been doing, and are now doing, a considerable amount of work, particularly in Civil Defence. I am also speaking on behalf of many municipal and local authorities throughout the country who are employing these boys. I hope your Lordships will understand that I have to base most of my arguments upon the work of the association—the Boy Scouts—with which I am most familiar, and which I suppose has the largest number of boys engaged at the present time. It may be in the recollection of many of your Lordships still—I hope it is—that during the last war a very considerable contribution was made to what I may call the home front by the work of the younger generation of that time. This, of course, includes all boys' organisations which were then operating. From the point of view of our own association there were throughout the whole hostilities something like 45,000 boys on the spot, employed in a variety of duties, from coast watching to messenger work, and particularly messenger work, who earned the thanks of the Government of the day at the close.

To come to more recent times, during and even before the crisis of September, 1938, this association, as well as others, was fully alive to the contribution which its members might be called upon to make should their services be required, and in our case the response of the Boy Scouts was so great that it was found necessary to make a complete survey during the time it was in operation and to issue a report, which covers fifty pages of close print, which I have in my hand for your Lordships to see should you desire to do so. That report was sent to the then Home Secretary. It was also sent to all our overseas branches, and I understand that they are basing their own schemes of work in Civil Defence very largely upon that report. On this occasion also we were greatly encouraged by a personal letter of thanks from the then Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, coupled with an expression of his desire that we should do everything possible to continue our efforts should war come.

Since September, 1938, therefore, we have kept constantly before our members the necessity, through their training, of making and keeping themselves fit to carry out their duties. With this in view we have instituted what we call a National Service badge, and over 18,000 were earned by the boys during the year. There are many useful jobs which obviously quite a young boy can do during such times as these, but most important of all—and it is in this connection that we get the greatest demand for their services—is that of the messenger service. Your Lordships will readily appreciate that normal communications are even now much more difficult. There is great pressure on the telephone service, and so forth. You cannot move about so easily, and the ordinary means of locomotion are greatly curtailed. There are many offices in the Civil Defence Services in which people find they have no home telephones, and where a great deal of house work is necessary. It is necessary that these boys should receive training. A messenger needs training just as any other person doing service needy training. He wants, in the first place, to be quick and intelligent—quick in the up-take; he must know his way about in an intimate way, both in the building and in the surrounding districts; he must know where the air-raid shelters are and the most important posts in the district; and he must be able to repeat a message intelligently and not forget any part of it. All that needs training, and it means picking the boys and training them. That is a point which I want your Lordships to remember.

Up to four or five months ago there was no question of limiting the age to sixteen. In fact, boys of fourteen upwards have, for over a year, been training themselves in our association, and in other associations as well, for this kind of service, and so far as I am aware no organisation was consulted before the age limit was fixed. It was therefore a great blow to us, and to many other associations, to receive a letter from the then Lord Privy Seal, stating that it had been decided that boys under sixteen should not be enrolled as National Service Volunteers in any branch of Civil Defence Service; and that boys of sixteen to eighteen years of age who may serve as messengers in A.R.P. and relevant services in war will be covered by such arrangements as may be made by the Government for the compensation of volunteers in the event of death or injury sustained in the course of duty during time of war. Why sixteen, my Lords? I may be told, of course, that public opinion would be opposed to the employment of boys under that age. I would reply that the only public opinion with which we are concerned is, in the first place, that of the boys' parents, who, so far as I am aware, have only been too eager and anxious for the boys not only to train but to take part in these duties when an emergency came; and in the second place, that of municipal and other authorities, Chief Constables and so on, with whom we have been in touch, who have welcomed their services and see no reason why boys should not be employed down to the age of fourteen. I might mention here, and it will not be forgotten, that the youngest survivor of His Majesty's Ship "Courageous" is a boy of fifteen.

It might be said that public sentiment would be against the possible consequence of a boy of fourteen seeing the results of air raids. I am afraid if air raids do come that will affect young people wherever they may be. It may be impossible to keep the immediate results from them, but every precaution will be taken to see that they should not be allowed out between an air-raid warning and the "All clear" signal. Every precaution will be taken by the air-raid posts, and people in authority, to see that young boys are not brought in contact with unpleasant sights. The difficulty to us is that boys might be out in the street at the time of an air raid, but that is one of the unfortunate things which we have to face. It has been said that they would suffer from the strain and the long hours imposed by war conditions; in fact The Times has said that: It is felt that boys under the age of sixteen should not be exposed to the strain and long hours imposed by war conditions. But boys of fourteen years and upwards have always been exposed to the possibility of long hours in the workshop and on the farm, and if they are enrolled in the business of Civil Defence they will come under leaders who will see to it that they are not exposed to undue hours. I understand from personal observation that the average is four hours on and four hours off, with reasonable allowance for half-days. As for strain, your Lordships will agree with me that it is a matter for great thankfulness that young people do not, during times of national emergency such as this, suffer from strain and anxiety as their elders do. For them war or no war, the world is a playground, and may this ever be so!

Then we come to the question of danger. Large numbers of these boys, the majority I imagine, will be employed in areas which have been scheduled by the Government as neutral or safe, and in any case, is a boy in more danger taking a message under supervision from one spot to a clearly defined other spot, or in waiting about on duty under supervision, than he would be playing in the open or going to and from school? But these A.R.P. messengers are trained for their special duties, and they will not be sent out between the air-raid warning and the "All clear." After all, it is very difficult to say, anyhow at present, what average situation is safer than another. There is, of course, the question of insurance, which was promised by the Government for boys over sixteen. But I understand it is a fairly widespread experience in those districts which have been gravely affected by this order that municipal and other bodies are arranging, and are perfectly willing to arrange, their own cover.

Then comes the question of pay. That is not an important question with our boys. Most of them are perfectly willing to give voluntary service, but—and this is important—they do want to feel that they are enrolled. Your Lordships will readily imagine what it means to a young fellow to feel that he is enrolled in the service of his country. It is very different from being told, "You turn up when you like, and we will see if we can give you a job." They will not turn up then, and what many of our Civil Defence organisations are suffering from now is the uncertainty of the part-time volunteer. But if you enrol a boy, especially a boy of a disciplined and recognised organisation, then you enrol his loyalty as well as the boy himself.

We know for a fact that since this order went out, some public authorities are deliberately turning a blind eye to this age limit, because they cannot risk having all their arrangements upset. For instance, in one centre, for a year now they have had 2,000 of these boy messengers trained, and nearly 50 per cent. are boys under the age of sixteen, and other centres have accused those organisations which have obeyed the order and withdrawn their boys of deliberately letting them down. Now that is not fair. However, when the decision was reached, it was communicated to all our centres, and I understand the Home Office sent instructions to public authorities. It evoked an immediate storm of protest, both from our own people and from Chief Constables and public authorities all over the country. Many of these told us that their organisations were practically wrecked, and they would have to build them up again on perfectly new foundations.

I have a couple of letters here and I would like to quote from them—one from the North and one from the South. That from the South says: As far as it can be ascertained, the reasons for this"— that is the under-sixteen order— are as under: That for boys to be on duty for eight hours at the age under notice is far too long. All scouts are on duty in reliefs, four boys to each relief, and their turn of duty is four hours, so that Point is settled. To expose boys to danger is neither right, just nor wise. All scouts under sixteen years of age are as safe as they can well be. An undertaking has been given that no boy will be sent out between the warning signal and the 'All clear.' Each boy has been individually told that should he be out when the warning signal is given, he must at once take cover and await the 'All clear.' Further, when indoors, they are under all the protection it seems possible to give them. In fact they are better protected than many of the A.R.P. staff. It is considered the boys if employed will, should bombs fall, be frightened, nervous and jumpy. Are they not much more likely to suffer in these respects when having nothing to do but aimlessly to wander the streets? The conditions mentioned above would surely to any ordinary mentality be considered an antidote to the ills which have suddenly dawned in some brain but which long ago were carefully considered by us and the necessary provisions made to guard against them. The local authority find it difficult to appreciate why scouts under sixteen years of age are apparently able to serve the naval and military people and be at the same time debarred from duty with a Civil Defence organisation. … The local authority will, if scouts are withdrawn, lose the services of disciplined, smart and specially trained lads. In their place it will be only possible to engage youths over sixteen, who will be devoid of discipline and training and whose attendance will be uncertain. These youths will without doubt take full advantage of the circumstances and conditions now existing, and demand a full remuneration for their services, which will have to be paid, entailing a heavy additional expenditure. The local authority are of opinion it is possible the details given above may not be understood in Whitehall. Then a communication from the North in which it is stated: I naturally thought that all boy labour under sixteen would have to do likewise"— that is, be withdrawn under the order— but nothing of the kind. Instead of being done by scouts, this work is now being entrusted to numbers of school boys under the title of A.R.P. Messenger Service from which we scouts are excluded. The disappointment of our boys was bitter enough, but imagine their feelings when they found that anyone except a scout could do this work without let or hindrance. That sort of thing is going on now all over the country. From the practical point of view, insistence upon the limit of sixteen years of age is resulting in a considerable shortage of young workers for this essential messenger duty. We reckon that it will affect the production of these boys—certainly trained boys—to the extent of thirty and perhaps even as much as fifty per cent. From perhaps an even more important point of view, it will prevent giving useful employment to many boys who have left school and have no other outlet for superfluous energy in this respect.

I would suggest that while concentrating, as we must do, all our energies upon war, we must at the same time consider the grave effect which the conditions of warfare are bound to have upon our young people, with the very large withdrawal of parental control which must result from war leisure and the very great difficulty under which voluntary organisations who otherwise would cater for them are bound to work. For instance, we immediately lost a great proportion of our leaders, many of them inevitably—the very best of our leaders. We have had our club rooms commandeered right and left, some of them unnecesarily. We hope and believe that that will be purely temporary and that as things settle down many of these buildings will come back. I know that the noble Earl, the President of the Board of Education, will be very sympathetic and help us wherever he can in getting these buildings back where possible. We are confronted by great difficulties, but at the same time we have been pressed by the Government to carry on, and it is obvious that we should try to carry on as far as we are able to do so. We have every intention of carrying on, if we can, without too many restrictions. From the psychological standpoint, it is a common experience among workers that young people from fourteen to sixteen years old are more easily trained, more amenable to discipline, and more generally useful for duties within their capacity than are those of the older age group approaching adolescence. We do not ask that every boy of fourteen or fifteen who wants to undertake these duties should be enrolled, but we do ask that we should have the right to enrol picked boys whom we can trust to do the job well, and that they should be able to consider themselves as enrolled in the service of their country.

In conclusion, I hope I am not creating a dangerous precedent, but I should like to read to your Lordships a letter from a twelve-year-old boy and let the boys speak for themselves. This youngster is a Scout in a Northern village, and he is writing, having failed to get satisfaction elsewhere, to the secretary of the headquarters of his district: Dear Sir, I am writing on behalf of a good many other Scouts. The reason why I am writing to you is on National Service. At seven o'clock this morning I was to be at Meir Senior School for running messages, etc. When I arrived at the gates our skipper was just coming out of the school, and he informed me that no Scouts under sixteen are wanted at all. What is the reason? I entered my name in the National Service paper, and I expected that I would be wanted, not to be refused and told that I am not wanted at all. You daren't look me straight in the face and say that I am not wanted after I have filled in the green form. It is not a very good way for a Scout to be refused like that. It is not our Scoutmaster, but it is you at the Scout headquarters, is it not? Make sure you give me a reply. A faithful Scout, S.D. I quote that letter, not that we are asking that this age limit should be lowered to such a degree as twelve years, but because it is typical of the spirit of our boys in this country.

They are longing to do their bit, they are longing to serve their country, and Heaven knows it will be difficult to find employment for all these children. Under the great difficulties of evacuation and so on it is going to be very difficult indeed unless we have as much right as we can get to find them employment. What finer employment could we find for a youngster than to enrol him in the service of his country? That is going to influence him not only all through the war, but all through his life, and so I hope the noble Earl will be able to give us some crumbs of comfort at any rate. I beg to move for Papers.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, you have heard the eloquent and powerful plea put forward by my noble friend Lord Hampton on behalf of the great organisation of Boy Scouts with which we all know he is connected. I want to say a few words on behalf of another boys' organisation of which I am President—namely, the Navy League Sea Cadets, which has many thousands of boys not only in this country but in every Dominion beyond the seas. I will not repeat, because it is unnecessary, the arguments my noble friend has put forward. He has disposed of the difficulties that seem to have been in the mind of the authorities as regards public opinion. He has pointed out tersely that if the parents are willing and the boys are willing, and the country and the local authorities need them, there is no other public opinion that matters except a sentimentality with which we are not concerned. As to long hours and hardship, I wish we could have heard the same plea in peace-time regarding some of the long hours boys were engaged. If there is a time when you ought to make an exception it is surely in war-time, because war-time occupation for a boy is far more congenial than ordinary peace-time occupation.

As regards danger, it is perfectly obvious, as my noble friend has said, that boys acting under rigid discipline and close supervision are in far less danger than they would be hanging about in their homes or in the streets during times of crisis. Our Sea Cadets are in a particular position, and their training reinforces what my noble friend has said as regards the Boy Scouts. We take Sea Cadets from twelve years of age, and from the moment they enter our organisation they are both recognised and inspected by the Admiralty. A Cadet enlisted at twelve years old, and therefore a part of His Majesty's Forces, has by the age of fifteen received three years' training in discipline, seamanship, and boat-work under retired naval officers, petty officers, and naval ratings, and you would see in the ranks of these Cadets that boys of fourteen and fifteen are self-reliant, capable, and keen. I could repeat some of the tributes which my noble friend has read. I have got one from a senior naval officer, who says: The boys have shown great keenness, and they have on many occasions given valuable assistance. Another one, also a senior naval officer, says: The opening of this naval base has, under the circumstances of emergency in which the work has had to be carried out, been a work of considerable difficulty. This difficulty would have been much greater without the help of the Sea Cadets, and we are all deeply indebted to them. Our boys have been already manning signal stations, guarding store depots, and important bridges, and they have been doing messenger work for A.R.P. organisations, fire brigades, and the Ministry of Information, although I do not suppose my noble friend knows that. Those below sixteen are in my judgment just as capable, from fourteen upwards, of rendering good service as the boys of sixteen themselves. I wish to echo what my noble friend has said. What a thousand pities it is to discourage a boy's keen spirit at that age. It was only about a year ago, after the crisis of last autumn, that I succeeded in persuading the Admiralty to give an undertaking that all our Sea Cadets, when called up under the Conscription Act, should automatically be drafted into His Majesty's Navy. If you knew the effect that had on all our lads in this country and in the Empire, and what an aid to recruitment it gave to our ranks, you would realise how closely boys below sixteen watch these things and how eager they are to serve at a lower age than that fixed by authority to-day.

The danger of discouraging boys' enthusiasms is really a very great one. The boys want to serve, their parents are willing, the local authorities need their services, and I plead with the noble Earl who is going to reply that really at a time like this their wishes ought to be considered. Boys have right through our history at a much earlier age than this given magnificent service in the Services themselves, taking the same risks and enduring the same hardships as the men, and they should not be classed with the women of this country. I really think it is a great piece of sentimentality, and I hope that the boys of this country from the age of fourteen upwards will be given the chance which they desire of rendering service to the nation.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I know your Lordships have a great deal of rather important business to transact this afternoon, and I do not want to keep you more than a few moments, but I feel bound to support very shortly the plea which has been so eloquently made by the two noble Lords who have just spoken. I am bound to say, without prejudice to what I may hear from the noble Earl who will reply for the Government, that the case which they have made out seems to me so strong as to be really unanswerable. Boys of the age of fourteen to sixteen are just at the age when they are becoming aware of new energies of body and mind stirring within them. It is the age when their best instincts are either aroused or are dragged down. It is the age when that fine instinct of loyalty can be either trained under leadership or else perverted. It seems to me a thousand pities that boys of that particular age should be debarred from this opportunity of offering service to their country. In that connection I would add only a sentence, that I am sure nothing could be more short-sighted at the present time, even under war conditions, than to close down the various agencies, like club rooms, play centres and the like, which have been available for boys of that age. This is a matter that affects not only boys of the present time, but the future manhood of the country.

But to return to the main point, your Lordships have heard about the readiness, the eagerness, of numbers of boys to be permitted to take a share in this Civil Defence. You have heard what was done at the last war, and in this war the necessity of just the kind of service these boys can give is greater than ever, because Civil Defence occupies a place of great importance quite without any analogy in the last war. The kind of work that these boys can do has been described to you by Lord Hampton, and it is exceedingly useful in itself. Your Lordships know how these boys have not only alacrity but infinite resource. What is more, they are always proud of any work that is given them to do and they have a sense of self-importance in doing it, which is very irritating among older people but is very engaging with small boys. Now this being so, you have heard that the Boy Scouts and the Naval Cadets, and the scouts associations particularly, have been ever since last September training their boys in order that they may be able to fulfil this useful function. You have heard how public authorities have already made much use of them and how grateful they are. It seems to me very strange that after these few months suddenly there should have come this news that boys between fourteen and sixteen are not to be permitted to be enrolled in any branch of National Service for reasons which have been alleged and have been dealt with very effectively by my noble friend. I must say that I do not understand why these boys have been debarred not only from fulfilling a work of great usefulness at the present time, but also from finding an outlet for their energy and scope for their loyalties in the best possible way in the service of their country.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for saying one word in support of this Motion, as I have been asked to do, seeing that I am what the late Mr. Will Crooks would call one of the "aborigines" of the Boy Scout movement. I hope the noble Lord will not withdraw his Motion because I know how much disappointment has been caused among these boys' associations and how much aggravation has been caused to the local authorities. It is astonishing how much foolishness, if I may say so, there is in your Lordships' House in one respect that I will mention. You may have been shocked, and I am sure your Lordships were, that only yesterday—and the same thing has occurred on previous occasions—the bright sunshine of a September afternoon was blacked out from this House by people coming round and blacking out our windows. They are doing so now, and I wish they would stop it. It is incredible that this senior House and this great deliberative assembly should be blacked out at half past four, three hours, or at least two and a half hours, before the sun sets. I inquired from the authorities here why we, of all people in the world, should be the only deliberative assembly among all such assemblies on the Continent of Europe to be blacked out two or three hours before sunset. "Oh," I was told, "we can't get the labour." "But," I said, "surely what you spend on the labour would be more than compensated for by the light you would get." If, instead, you asked either Lord Lloyd or Lord Hampton tomorrow to arrange for their Boy Scouts between fourteen and sixteen to pull down these blinds when darkness comes, the thing would be done.

What applies to your Lordships' House applies, I know, also, for I have seen the Mayors in many towns, to other places in the country. Here are we not only being subjected to inconvenience but being made to look supremely ridiculous, as we are at this moment, by being blacked out against a danger which is non-existent just because we say we cannot get labour. In these circumstances the Ministry has destroyed the labour of boys from fourteen to sixteen which would do all these useful things. I wonder what possible explanation of it there can be. Whatever can be said, I hope I may address the Lord Chancellor and say that he, as I understand, has a room which has been blacked out for his own purpose, but I hope we shall not allow the House of Lords to be blacked out so early as long as we can get boys of from fourteen to sixteen to do it at the proper time. As an old Boy Scout I hope this order will be rescinded, and that these boys will be allowed to serve their country as they wish to do.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, in adding but a few words to the very eloquent speeches which have been made on this subject, I crave your Lordships' indulgence in addressing you for the first time. From personal association with two of the leading boys' associations in Scotland, I would like to corroborate all that has been said by my noble friend Lord Hampton. The dislocation which has been caused by this order withdrawing the services of boys between fourteen and sixteen has been very real, and the effect on the boys themselves has been very unfortunate indeed. In the large cities, and also in the smaller ones, and in the towns of Scotland in nearly every case, the local authorities asked one or more of the boys' associations to organise boys for extra services. This was done, and it was done, I may say, very effectively. The boys in many cases had been trained; they were enrolled; the machine was ready and was actually working when this blow fell. A very large proportion of these boys, in fact more than 50 per cent. in most cases, had to be at once stopped.

It nearly stopped the machine of which they were a part, and in many cases special representations were made that the withdrawal should not be done hastily but gradually. In one case, the case of one of the principal cities of Scotland, the effect has been even more unfortunate, because whereas under the original circumstances it would have been possible for the three boys' organisations who undertook the work to maintain a 24-hour service giving the boys reasonable shifts and proper holidays, that naturally is no longer possible. The effect in this particular case has been that the authorities, if they have not already so decided, are considering abandoning all this voluntary effort and disbanding this voluntary machine in favour of a paid service. The two aspects we have to consider are not only the effect of losing what may turn out to be an extremely valuable service—as it proved in the last war—but also the effect upon the minds of these boys who feel that their services are being thrown away, and that they are considered to be of no use for jobs for which they have been trained and for which they have already proved themselves to be very fit. I hope that your Lordships will give the proposal your serious consideration.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I think that even if this case had not been so eloquently urged and so widely supported we should all feel a great deal of sympathy for it, and in spite of what I am going to say, I would like your Lordships to take it from me here and now that all the arguments will be put before my right honourable friend and colleague the Home Secretary and I will undertake to discuss them myself with him. We must all feel, I think, a very natural sympathy for the desire of these boys to serve, and I do not think anyone of us could fail to feel a certain prick in being British when we heard of the spirit shown in the letter which was read by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton. These boys are keen, they are intelligent, they are trained and disciplined, but perhaps it is going a little too far, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, did, in making his case for the use of boys from fourteen to sixteen years old, to assume that all virtue resides in that particular age, and that when boys reach the age of sixteen they become undisciplined.

But in spite of all the arguments put—which must, of course, be considered—I am not entirely convinced. What do we really mean by this type of service? Why is it that at this moment we have to have an A.R.P. organisation at all? Surely it is because we believe that the danger of air attack over this country is real and because we believe that there is danger on the home front as well as abroad. It is not a bit of good talking—as the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, suggested—as if it were just a matter of boys being employed in pulling down the blinds in your Lordships' House. These boys will have to be on duty for A.R.P. work, and I think it is also suggested for fire and police work. You cannot have members of an A.R.P. force put into shelters at the one moment for which they have been prepared and trained. A.R.P. workers cannot be given an assurance that they will go down to shelters when there is an air raid in progress. These boys will have to be on the streets, going to the first-aid posts and to the hospitals, possibly seeing horrible cases of injury. That must be their job. If they are members of the A.R.P. force and cannot do that job, they are not going to be of great value in that force.

Do not let us, just because during the first fortnight or three weeks we have not suffered, I was going to say the full force, but any force at all of air raids, fall into the mistake of assuming that all this really means a very easy, pleasant job of running messages. I cannot help feeling that we should be very hard pressed indeed for man power before calling on these boys of fourteen and fifteen years of age to do what is really very close to being a front-line job, involving long hours, great risks and strain. You cannot in the least compare this sort of work with the work done by the Boy Scouts in the last war because of the facts which I have ventured to put before your Lordships. And I think that the Boy Scouts organisation really recognise these facts themselves, because they made application to the authorities for inclusion in the compensation provisions against death or injury.


May I ask, as a matter of information, whether boys under sixteen are not employed in the Services, in the Navy and Army?


I made a note of the Naval Cadets that the noble Lord mentioned.


I mean in the Services, the Navy and Army.


I am quite sure they are not sent to the front.


Do they not go on battleships and suffer all the risks?


No, not below sixteen. I think the naval cadets mentioned by the noble Lord do not go to sea even in peace time. They certainly do not go to sea in war time. I cannot help feeling that this war is quite bad enough and horrible enough for adults, even if you go down to as low an age as sixteen, and I do not think that this is purely a sentimental view to take. Your future generation is something that has got to be safeguarded and treasured, especially if you are going to wipe out a great deal of the present generation. That is really the line on which we are dealing with the age for military purposes. In the last war boys of seventeen, eighteen and nineteen were sent out to the front. In this war the decision has virtually been taken not to send them out until they are twenty. I should have thought that most of us in this House would feel that to be a right and proper decision.

I do not think any of us can fail to be really worried at the idea of these boys, full of enthusiasm, full of anxiety to serve, being thrown back on themselves and made to feel that they are not wanted. I cannot help feeling that the right way for the younger generation to serve at the present moment—and it is for us who are older to make them feel that this is in fact work that is really worth while—is to carry on with their existing jobs, but twice as hard as they were working. They should realise that the time may come, and come all too soon, when they are going to be called upon; and they have to be fit, they have to prepare for the future and train for the future. If there is going to be a long war, their services will be required all too soon; if not, then the reconstruction that this country is going to need after a war, no matter how short it may be, will call for everything they have to give, and it will be just as necessary as ever that they should be fit.

I do not think that anybody in this House would feel that there was a better training for either of these purposes than the training that they receive in the Boy Scouts. I myself would urge these boys to stick to that training and, as their war contribution, at any rate until they come to the age of sixteen, to work even harder at it, and there will be no question then of their country being able to use them. If this reply is disappointing to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and to others of your Lordships, I would nevertheless, whatever the ultimate decision on this point may be, ask the noble Lord to convey to his boys on behalf of the Government our very real appreciation of their spirit, and say that this is not only an order to stand by but a request to work and train so as to be prepared when called upon.

There is one other word that I should like to add. It is not strictly relevant to this debate, but I really think it does touch on the subject. I hope that all the scoutmasters and leaders of every type who are working either with Scouts or in any other type of juvenile organisation will feel that their work is of real national importance, and first-class national importance. One hears of cases of those who feel that it is necessary for them to take up other work which seems to them of more direct national importance. I hope they will think very carefully before they do so. The most reverend Primate has touched on this point, and I should like to confirm what he has stated. I hope in quite a short time to be able to inform your Lordships what will be the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to juvenile work during war-time, and I think that when that statement is issued it will only serve to confirm this appeal that I venture to make at the present moment to all engaged in the work, to stick to their guns and carry on.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, may I with great respect and all humility congratulate the Government on the decision they have taken? I hope we shall keep clear heads and balanced minds in relation to the matter and think of the coming generation as much as we do of the present generation. I should only like to add that it is a painful reflection on the conduct of the last war to recall the way in which women were used up in six, eight or ten months because they were worked week-days and Sundays without intermission. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Addison, who was head of a great State Department at that time, will support what I say. Had not steps been taken to preserve the youth and energy of our country, we should not have brought the war to the successful conclusion which we eventually reached. Therefore I venture, with great respect and all humility, to ask for judgment in this matter, and that we should serve in every possible way the youth of our nation.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to delay your Lordships for only a short while. During this debate, in which I have been supported by the most reverend Primate and others of your Lordships, for whose support I am most grateful, I have been coming to the conclusion that, as the most reverend Primate said, the case we have put forward is practically unanswerable; and nothing which the noble Earl the Minister of Education said in his reply has caused me to alter that opinion. I am, however, grateful to him for one word of comfort in which he said he would report the matter to the Home Secretary. I hope, therefore, that this is not entirely the last word on the subject and that perhaps a compromise may be reached as to the age limit. I am not going to answer the points which he has brought up, because I think I answered them all satisfactorily in my first remarks; but on the point of danger, surely it is impossible to say that we in this country are not all, wherever we may be, in the front line of danger.

As for these A.R.P. shelters, from what I have seen of them they are far more prepared as a rule for safety than is any private home in which these boys are likely to find themselves. As for their running messages, I have already said that as far as we can take precautions they will not be sent out. Many of them in any case will be out at the time in the streets or parks, or going to or from school. Really, therefore, I do not think that point is one with which we need worry. I do not wish to detain your Lordships further except to say that, whatever the outcome of this debate may be, I should like to assure the noble Earl and through him the Home Secretary that the boys of all these organisations throughout the country will do their very utmost to help his Department, and through it the country as a whole. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.